The headline and art made Old Word Wolf expect the long feature story might describe how a recent tragedy – the accidental death of a traumatized marine -- might shed light on a national problem.
The article fails to deliver. Despite the writer's claim the tragedy is provoking national attention, he presents no evidence that this marine’s death prompted anything national or more than a family’s vague desire to “help others.”
Here's what is offered instead:
In 70 paragraphs, OWW finds a flawed recap of the life and death of an Indiana native who visited relatives in southwest Florida earlier this year as part of his effort to recover from the trauma of military service in Iraq.
The reporting flaws begin on the first page: The reporter -- an "assistant editor" -- says 20 percent, or “120,000,” of 800,000 returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq since 2002 have been diagnosed with a mental-health condition. His math error is picked up and featured in a box on jump -- but there’s not one mention of how the man’s death is causing people to look closely at the PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
The first and only expert the reporter quotes is Ira Katz, Veterans Administration deputy chief patient care services officer, saying “Any number is high, but we expect we can manage it with the funding available.” So Katz is not the one taking the “closer look” at the system because of this marine's death, as the writer/editor promises.
Turning to the jump, the inside headline reiterates: “Eric Hall case prompts a closer look at PTSD.” But instead of addressing that promise, the reporter tells readers the marine’s hometown is “quaint,” while offering no evidence for this assessment. (A quick trip to the town’s historic-preservation committee Web site finds phrases like “architectural indifference is not hard to find downtown,” and longish descriptions of a riverfront town struggling to preserve its past.)
The second “expert” interviewed is identified only as Charlie Shaughnessy, a Vietnam vet. No city, no middle initial, no age, no address, nothing but a diminutive nickname. Is he local? What's his area of expertise? Was this character made up? readers might well ask.
Ok, this is getting tedious. The punch line is that somewhere south of the 65th paragraph, readers learn the marine’s mother “does not want to see the same thing happen to other young men.” The news on which the headlines seem to be based is:
[She] is in the process of establishing the Eric Hall Memorial Fund to help veterans and their families. Although tentative, the fund would provide money for returning soldiers to assist with their transition home. It would push for tougher legislation to increase the decompression phase to a minimum of 60 days, and allow family members to be present so they can better understand the issues [...] Hall also wants to enact legislation so every soldier is registered with the VA for any present or future combat related illness.Sorry, that’s not enough. Everything is “tentative.” Most important, the reporter gives no evidence to support his assertion that the “initiative” is receiving “national support.” There is not one substantial connection in the whole story to tie the local death to a national examination of PTSD afflicted veterans.
The initiative is already receiving national support. Locally, two major fund raising events are scheduled for the summer and fall.
This Charlotte Sun feature is big on promises but Assistant Editor Jason Witz fails to deliver. In that failure, he and the paper conspire to exploit a man’s death for not much.